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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume I (10,000 to 1,000 B.C.)

Southwestern Coastal Culture (Précis, Chapter 11)

The term 'Southwestern Coastal culture' is used instead of previous terms, such as Old Cordilleran culture (Butler 1961; Fladmark 1982; Matson 1976), the Pebble Tool tradition (Carlson 1983; 1990), and the Olcott complex (Nelson 1990), in order to accommodate the geographic-habitat based culture nomenclature followed in this work. Less frequently used other names for the culture under consideration are Early Lithic culture (Mitchell 1971) and the Protowestern tradition (Borden 1975). There is a controversy whether Southwestern Coastal culture and its contemporary along the coast, Northwestern Coastal culture, represent geographic variations of a single culture or were two distinctly different cultures, one that originated from Palaeo-Indian in the south and spread north along the coast while the other, an off-shoot of Northwestern Palaeo-Arctic culture in Beringia, spread southward down the coast. There is also the debate whether Southwestern Coastal culture was an interior culture that moved to the coast or was a coastal culture that spread up the major river valleys into the interior or alternatively, possessed both maritime and interior adaptations. Evidence relating to this initial human occupation of the southern coast indicates that a sophisticated maritime adaptation was in place by 10,000 B.P.

A resolution of the controversy surrounding the origin(s) and relationships of Southwestern Coastal culture and Northwestern Coastal culture are critical to any appreciation of the formation of West Coast culture. Some regard the Palaeo-Indian derived transitional cultures in the Great Basin- Columbia-Snake River region as being unrelated to contemporary developments along the coast to the north and, in particular, on the lower Fraser River (Carlson 1988: 322). Others regard Southwestern Coastal culture as being part of a broad cultural differentiation from Palaeo-Indian culture into a number of geographically confined and regionally distinctive cultures (Willig and Aikens 1988: Table 3). While it does appear that cultural developments in southern British Columbia were distinct in a number of important respects from those of the Columbia Plateau of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, the area still appears to have participated in a widely distributed technological pattern. South of British Columbia various dimensions of this technological pattern have been classified as the San Dieguito horizon (Aikens 1978), the Western Pluvial Lakes tradition (Bedwell 1973), and the Stemmed Point tradition (Carlson 1983). The central issue is whether Southwestern Coastal culture shared its origins with other regional cultures that developed out of a Palaeo-Indian cultural base or whether it was a product of a southward movement of people down the coast of British Columbia from the North Pacific. Evidence relating to a sophisticated large sea mammal hunting capability and, more tentatively, the historic linguistic diversity of coastal British Columbia has been used to support the northern origin hypothesis. At this point in time a southern origin of Southwestern Coastal culture (Borden 1975) would appear to be more probable.

Within Southwestern Coastal culture technology the bifacially flaked bipointed projectile point is regarded as the major diagnostic artifact of "... an unspecialized hunting-gathering culture which appeared on the scene in the Pacific Northwest at or near the end of the Late Pleistocene. This culture, which I shall now refer to as the Old Cordilleran culture, appears to have been a widespread, basal culture in the area, ranging from the maritime province of the Puget Sound southward to the Northern Great Basin and eastward into the Columbia Basin, and possibly into eastern Idaho" (Butler 1961: 63). Butler regarded Old Cordilleran culture as a contemporary of Palaeo-Indian culture although sites generally date from 10,000 to 8,500 B.P. or later. Much of the difficulty in attempting to demonstrate the distribution of Southwestern Coastal culture can be attributed to its relatively simple tool kit containing artifact categories that are also found in much later cultures. The assemblage consists primarily of cobble core and spall tools and bipointed projectile points and knives, none of which are necessarily diagnostic of an early time period. The situation is then compounded by the scarcity of excavated sites and discrete components. Ground stone implements are either absent or rare as are bone implements. The few bone implements from the Glenrose Cannery site in the Fraser Delta (Matson 1976), for example, consisted of a single fixed barbed harpoon and a number of antler wedges, the latter being suggestive of wood-working. Evidence to the south in Oregon does indicate that the spearthrower may have been in use at this time.

Faunal evidence from coastal sites indicates a seasonal round that exploited both terrestrial and maritime resources but made relatively little use of intertidal food sources such as shellfish. The Bear Cove site on the north end of Vancouver Island (C. Carlson 1979), for example, contained high frequencies of dolphin, porpoise, and sea lion, thus providing strong support for the proposal that Southwestern Coastal culture possessed sea-worthy watercraft and the technology and knowledge necessary to capture large sea mammals. In contrast, in the Fraser River Canyon the location of the Milliken site suggests that salmon were captured in the rapids using some form of dip-net (Borden 1961). Given the complex nature of the topography of coastal British Columbia and its highly variable resources it is likely that the adaptive strategy of Southwestern Coastal culture was fine-tuned to all available foods, maritime and terrestrial. Even the limited evidence of the use of intertidal resources could prove to be more a product of limitations in archaeological sampling and preservation than any culturally motivated indifference to the rich resources of this ecotone. The suggestion that a diffuse adaptive subsistence system prevailed rather than a focal one is also supported by the highly variable settlement patterns which involved the utilization of a number of different environmental niches. Site locations range from sea mammal hunting and fishing camps situated on exposed coastal beaches to interior riverine locations adjacent to rapids with their seasonal migrating salmon. Features of any kind at these campsites are rare and tend to have been disturbed or, in many instances, probably destroyed by flood waters or ocean storms.

The impression that Southwestern Coastal culture in southern British Columbia involved small populations of mobile hunting and fishing bands is certain to have been heightened by the processes of sea-level fluctuations, tectonic forces, and soil erosion and deposition that have either destroyed sites or markedly reduced their archaeological visibility. At 8,000 B.P., for example, the high tide along the south coast was between 10 m to 15 m lower than present and did not reach its present level until shortly before the end of Period II (Mathews 1979). Many Southwestern Coastal culture ocean beach campsites during this time period would, of course, have been destroyed or drowned.

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